New Survey Shows a Majority of U.S. Teens Experience Cyberbullying, and Parents Are the Only Adults Perceived to Be Helping

A teen girl looking sad at her phone because of cyberbullying.
The internet has become a toxic place for the majority of teens. Highwaystarz-Photography

Last week, Pew released a survey revealing that a majority of teens have experienced some form of cyberbullying. According to the survey, 59 percent of “U.S. teens have personally experienced at least one of six types of abusive online behaviors,” which include: offensive name-calling; physical threats; spreading of false rumors; having explicit images of them shared without their consent; receiving explicit images they didn’t ask for; or having someone other than a parent constantly ask where they are, who they’re with, or what they’re doing. While bullying has always been one of the casual cruelties of adolescence, the ubiquity of smartphones and social media in an era where 45 percent of teens say they’re online “almost constantly” has only made the phenomena more inescapable.

According to the survey, name-calling is the most common form of harassment that teens face: 42 percent of teens reported being “called offensive names online or via their cellphone. Additionally, about a third (32 percent) of teens say someone has spread false rumors about them on the internet.” Smaller shares reported receiving explicit images they didn’t ask for or being stalked, 25 and 21 percent respectively, and less than 10 percent reported being a target of revenge porn, or having explicit images of themselves shared without their consent.

A majority of teens consider online harassment not only a major problem facing people their age, but one that is largely being ignored or handled ineptly by the authority figures in their lives. The good news is that the teens trust at least one group of adults to address cyberbullying: their parents. “Teens rate the anti-bullying efforts of five of the six groups measured in the survey more negatively than positively,” writes Monica Anderson, a senior researcher at Pew. “Parents are the only group for which a majority of teens (59 percent) express a favorable view of their efforts.” The five other groups teens were asked to rate include law enforcement, teachers, bystanders, social media sites, and elected officials, who were rated dead last: Only 20 percent of teens approved of their efforts to address cyberbullying.

The fact that the Youth approve of their parents’ anti-bullying efforts is a bright spot not least because about 6 in 10 parents in the Pew survey reported worrying about their teen being bullied or harassed online. The fact that that parental effort and concern managed to overcome the usual teen antipathy for anything parent-related is a testament to the fact that, in many ways, parents are adjusting to the constantly changing challenges their teens are facing a lot faster than institutions are. But they alone, of course, cannot fix the problem. Hopefully their concern will soon translate to serious and effective efforts on the parts of those other adults better positioned to change the system.